Take a moment and imagine what it would be like if everyone in your household was more patient, kind, calm and respectful. Trips to the doctor’s office become more infrequent, grades improve, and dinner time is a pleasant and happy affair. Overall, there is a sense of well-being and joy.
Sound far-fetched? Bliss is not that far away. Studies show that people who practice mindfulness report less stress, greater health and increased vitality when compared to their non-practicing counterparts. The efficacy of mindfulness has been tested in hospitals and schools around the world, so why not enjoy the benefits in your home?
Parents and children alike will benefit from the practice, and it is easy to learn. Children are naturally curious, a key component of mindfulness. As they grow and face more time constraints from school and extracurricular activities, curiosity gives way to following a schedule. Like their adult counterparts, children too experience stress.
What is Mindfulness?
Simply put, it is the practice of paying attention to what you are experiencing in the present moment, without judgment. Rather than analyzing what is happening, you use your senses to observe your experience without creating a story about it. `Your senses are the key: sight, smell, sound, taste, touch and observation of the mind are the six vehicles that connect your awareness to the present. Mindfulness gives us the chance to press the pause button, and choose how to respond rather than react to a situation.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Physical benefits of mindfulness include lower stress levels, lower blood pressure, reduction of chronic pain, improved digestion, lowered risk and even reversal of heart disease and better sleep.
Mindfulness can improve your mental health, and is used in treating depression, addiction, eating disorders, relationship issues, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The practice has also shown to increase the ability to cope with stressful situations, improves executive function and problem solving skills. As an added bonus, it increases the ability to savor life’s pleasures and live fully.
Practicing Mindfulness Meditation
The most recognized form of mindfulness is seated meditation. During this practice you aim your attention toward the objects of focus, usually your breath or the awareness of your six senses. The idea is to stay focused as long as you can, and when you get distracted simply start again.
Distraction will happen hundreds or thousands of times during one session – for adults and children alike. If you stay focused for one second it is a victory! With practice, the duration of focus will lengthen.
Teaching Mindfulness Meditation to Children
The first step in teaching mindfulness to your child is to practice it yourself. When you experience the benefits firsthand, you will be more passionate about handing this gift down to your child.
It is normal for children to be restless and fidgety, especially at first. To improve the odds of success, have realistic expectations. While an adult may be able to sit for 20 to 45 minutes, start your child out in three to five minute increments. It is better to practice for a short period more often than turn them off with a long, once a week sit.
Compassion and non-judgment is a vital component in mindfulness. Make sure that this practice is not used as a punishment, but allow it to be fun and lighthearted. Explain they do not have to be perfect – trying is good enough.
Modifications for mindfulness meditation with children include:
- Counting: Count each exhale until you get to 10, then count backwards.
- Sound: Instead of focusing on your breath, focus on sound. Try to hear sound without labeling what is making the sound.
- Sight: Fill a jar with water and colored sand. Put a lid on the jar, and shake it until the contents are mixed. Use the sense of sight to focus on the sand settling to the bottom of the jar.
- Sensation: Lay on your back, and place your hand on your belly. Feel your hand rise and fall with each breath.
How has practicing mindfulness impacted your family? Your stress level?